Friday, March 30, 2012

We drove through a lot of nothing on the way to Arizona.  The weather was warm and for the 5-6 hours it took us to get to Flagstaff, Arizona we assumed that the weather was warm all the miles in between.  However, when we arrived into Flagstaff, there was snow on the ground and snow covered mountains.  We stopped to get gas and realized that it was quite frigid out! We had no idea that we would be going from a warm, dry Santa Fe to a cold, frosty climate in a town with an elevation of 7,000 feet!

The town of Flagstaff was immediately amazing.  We drove through downtown keeping an eye out for possible accommodations and I spotted a hostel.  We ended up staying at the De Beaux Hostel in downtown Flagstaff.  It was my first hostel experience so I was a bit skeptical but it felt like a comfortable little community.  We had a small…extremely small….private room with a bed and a tiny shower.  It was within walking distance to everything downtown and a 90 minute drive to the Grand Canyon.  Fortunately, we didn’t have such a long drive that day so we were able to check in, change and have time to get to the Grand Canyon National Park to check it out.  Although we were exhausted, we are SO very glad we made the drive out there and back.  I’m not going to say much about the Grand Canyon because, as clichĂ© and cheesy at it may sound, there are simply no words.  It was bigger and more majestic than anything I have ever witnessed.  It is an infinite mass of carvings of land and colors.  You do not have enough sight in your two eyeballs to take it all in and it is something that you will never quite wrap your brain around. 

We drove an hour and a half back to our hostel, almost in silence as there isn’t much to say after witnessing such an amazing thing.  Our tummies had no problems talking for us, however.  It was definitely dinner time.  It was, or close to, freezing temperatures by the time we got back to the hostel.  We ran in to throw on more layers of clothes and head out to find food.  We were excited to 1) have so many options in front of us and 2) to be able to walk the options without having to drive around aimlessly.  We ended up at the Railway Brewery.  Jason and a flight so that he could sample 6 of the local brews while I had a margarita (I was on a margarita mission after having Maria’s in Santa Fe).  It took us all of an hour to eat and finish our drinks.  Jason looked at me and said, “I’m really feeling that beer.”  Apparently, according to our server, the effects of alcohol intensify with the elevation. 

A gentleman came by our table and announced that they were providing free two step lessons in the back for anyone who wanted to participate and that in an hour they were going to be moving all of the tables for dancing and two-step.  Jason and I toyed with the idea but opted out.  We considered trying the Flag Brewery across the street but decided that it had been a long enough day and that we had a LONG  drive to Los Angeles the next morning. 

The next morning we got up around 6:30 and went for a run downtown.  He didn’t notice as much, but the elevation definitely makes a difference when trying to get air into your lungs and breathe properly (or perhaps it was the horrible diet and lack of exercise over the past week).  Jason and I went to breakfast in the common area separately.  That way we could take turns showering and taking care of other restroom neccessities (sometimes you just need some privacy…haha!).  Once showered, I went to the common area to post on the blog while Jason packed, showered and played guitar.  The plan was to leave by 9am but I was held up when I met a couple from Toronto.  They were two ladies who had been together for 13 years and each year they take a trip somewhere new.  I spent about 20-30 minutes chatting with them before I realized the time.  I told them goodbye and wished them well.  They did the same.  We threw things into the car and prepared for what we knew would be a long day.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

PS: these blogs are written from the road and posted once we get internet connection in a hotel before falling asleep - please disregard any grammatical or spelling errors....or anything that just doesn't make sense in general. Thank you :)

Farewell, Texas! We were finally on our way to New Mexico.  It only took about an hour to get to the boarder from Amarillo.  It’s amazing how much the scenery changes from state to state.  We stopped in at the Visitor’s Center to get some information and, per the recommendation of the front desk clerk, decided to take the scenic route to Santa Fe.  The terrain changed from spans of flat land to dry, red canyons and was absolutely stunning to see in person.  It was about a 4 hour drive to Santa Fe from the boarder (I’m proud to say that I actually drove that entire distance and it was the most I’ve driven thus far).  Fortunately, we had a good bit of fuel in the tank because there was literally nothing for miles and miles other than the amazing scenery.  We came up to a small store in the middle of nowhere off of 25 South and decided we’d stop in for a potty break and a small snack.  There no other vehicles in sight and I was unsure if it was even open or operating at all.  We pulled open the first door then pushed in the second door.  We were greeted by a buzzing noise.  I immediately shut the door thinking it was an alarm going off.  Jason encouraged me to go on in.  Apparently, the noise it to signal to the people upstairs to leave their living room, come down the ramp and greet the customers.  An older Spanish gentleman with a limp arm and a flannel shirt, cowboy hat and large belt buckle.  It looked as if we had stepped into a house/bar/once-was fuel station.  To the right were a couple of pool tables and cleaning supplies. To the left there was a bar fully stocked with the following: liquor, bags of chips and popcorn, M&M’s and Bud Light.  “What can I do for you, little lady?” he asked.  I explained that we were hoping to use the restroom and grab a snack.  His little granddaughter in Dora the Explorer pajama’s followed him closely as well as his little dog, Buddy.  He encouraged us to stay and have a beer with him.  “We can’t, we’re driving into Santa Fe and it’s 11am.”  With a thick accent he said, “Oh, come on.  One beer ain’t gonna kill ya.  Do a shot then…something!” We declined although looking back now we wish we would have.  He had a lot of interesting things to say about New Mexico as well as a few theories on how all of the land and property must be owned by “doctors or drug dealers.” 

New Mexico is an interesting place to be.  Everything is made of adobe – homes, schools, churches, everything – other than mobile homes which are randomly scattered about the land in no particular rhyme or reason.  Santa Fe is a busy little city.  We stopped at the visitor’s center in town where we met the most interesting person.  The attendant’s name was Joe Guthrie.  He was tall, black, wide eyed and animated with a big white afro.  He was very charismatic and said that the government gave him that job to keep him off welfare after a terrible car incident.  He was hilarious.  He had homemade cookies with him and offered them to Jason and myself.  Actually, he pushed them onto us.  Saying “no” wasn’t an option.  Jason said that it was the best cookie he’s ever eaten.  He loved Joe’s cookie.

We were starting to get really hungry so we stopped in at the Second Street Brewery for lunch and a brew.  From there we headed into downtown to walk around for a bit and take a few photographs.  Like New Orleans, it’s one of those cities you wish you could spend more time in.  On the way out, we stopped at Maria’s Kitchen for a margarita as several of the locals had recommended.  Maria’s offers over 150 different tequilas and an entire book of different margaritas! We each had a margarita (which was fantastic…and strong!) while we looked online for accommodations in Albuquerque. 

We checked into the Super 8 around 7pm (“I’m not really sure where the ‘Super’ comes in…….or the ‘8’” – Jason).  It felt later to me and, as usual, I was showered and asleep within an hour as Jason worked on the blog and probably checking emails and such since he had no one else to talk to.  I vaguely remember him asking valid questions such as “Do they have a place we can do laundry here? Is there a fitness center?” I’m not sure if he got an answer.  I felt like I was in a coma.  In fact, I fell asleep sitting up on the bed trying to fill out postcards.  Lame. Anyway, the next morning it was off to Flagstaff, AZ and to hopefully get in a peek at the Grand Canyon in all of its glory.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Damarillo. Its actually Amarillo, but once you’ve been there the preceding title makes more sense. We leftShreveport and decided that we’d drive as far as we could without fallingasleep, which put us in Amarillo,approximately 620 miles from Shreveport.We decided to try and get some miles under our wheels as there isn’tmuch to see in Texas where we were passing through. Driving around Dallas to head north was anexperience. When you’ve been in smalltown after small town, to encounter a city that spurred on its own TV show, it felt like we were in a differentworld. It was busy, fast and hectic andthere were definitely more SUV’s and trucks than cars. We finally got through after figuring out thebest way around Dallas and headed north.The map that we are using wasn’t totally clear so with some backtrackingand route finding and a few arguments,we eventually got ourselves in the right direction. We passed through numerous towns on the waythrough to Amarillo and each one had such a peculiar feel to it. Perhaps the most peculiar was when we passedthrough Conway, which had a road side amusement fair going on, with no onethere. The vacant ferriswheel did lapswhile the controller sat below staring out towards the road. It was such a weird vibe. The only cars it seemed at the time on theroad were the ones either coming from Amarillo or heading to Amarillo. At this time of the day however it wasgetting towards sunset, so we had the chance to see some beautiful Texas sky asthere was a sliver of sky between the clouds and the horizon.Everythingis bigger in Texas; including their steak houses. After we drove around trying to find a placeto eat, once finally in Amarillo, we settled in at the Big Texan. I guess it’s a well known spot by those whohave ever had the chance to drive on the 40 headed West. Its claim to fame is the 72 ounce steakeating contest. You have 59 minutes and 59seconds to eat four and a half pounds of steak including the salad, rolls andbaked potato. If you do its free. If you don’t it will set you back $72.00,paid up front of course. The currentrecord is 8 minutes and 52 seconds. Onlyin Texas I think. Both Tess and I optedfor the burgers as we weren’t feeling steak.And to think that my diet consisted of nothing with faces or feathersfor a significant part of my late 20’s and 30’s. Therest of the restaurant is decorated with the heads of various animals mountedon the walls, large chandeliers, a group of men who play music at your table, ashooting gallery at the otherside of the bar, a woman who plays honky-tonk onan upright pian’er but the saving grace is the microbrewery there that servesup some pretty good beers. A growler [64oz] will set you back $14 the first time and $10 afterwards. It was nice to have a good beer after the daythat we had. I think we’re both lookingforward to getting into New Mexico.

The wind was picking up something awful and the weather reports were indicating a huge storm that was getting ready to hit southeastern parts of Mississippi and Louisiana – right where we were, of course.  Sorry for stressing you out, mama and daddy! J It was impossible to explain not stopping by New Orleans being that we were so close.  So, despite the bad weather headed in our direction, we decided to stop in and see it for about an hour.  We walked around the French Quarter and had coffee at Beignet CafĂ© to fill out postcards.  Jason was given a nice little treat from a bird who decided to poo on him and his camera.  It was amazing to see the devastation still left behind from Hurricane Katrina in both New Orleans and Biloxi.  Driveways, foundations and chimneys of homes remain but nothing else.  You could see where there were clearly shopping  centers and parking lots and now there is nothing.  Especially driving into New Orleans from the interstate, homes stood eerily boarded up and the roofs were being covered with moss and other plant life and covered in spray paint and graffiti.  Being there gives you a bizarre feeling in your gut when you try to imagine what must have been going through the minds of these people as they were about to lose everything they had ever known. 

We rushed back to the car so that we didn’t have to pay for an additional hour of parking….we missed it by 2 minutes! Actually, the employee at the booth said we missed the cut off by 4 minutes and she wouldn’t budge on that fact.  Frustrating.  We got back onto 10-West and ran into the storm.  The sky was a blue/green/grey color we had never seen before and it was only noon.  Then, the heavens opened and it rained unlike anything we had ever seen.  Cars were pulled over with flashing lights and although we were only driving 20 mph, we couldn’t even make out the lines on the road.  AM radio was playing so that we could listen to the local weather reports.  Bad news – two tornados had been reported….Good news – we were going the opposite direction.  We didn’t quite make it to Dallas after having to drive a round-about way to avoid the storm but we were safe.  After decided at 7pm that we were just too exhausted to make it another 3 hours to Dallas, we had dinner at Posado’s and booked a reservation at the Ramada in Shreveport, LA.  We made plans to settle in early, do some laundry and work on the blog together.  While Jason was moving the Jeep, I took a hot shower, threw on pj’s and settled in.  He poured us each a glass (no, plastic hotel cup) of Sasquatch Stout he brought from Vancouver which was delicious.  Cheers! Then, we got out the laptop to begin on the blog. I was asleep in about 3 minutes.  Sorry, Jason.  I got up this morning (Thursday) for a makeshift workout in the “workout facility” at the Ramada while Jason caught up on sleep.  I couldn’t blame him as he drove the entire day yesterday and I seem to be experiencing some sort of narcolepsy falling asleep any and everywhere.  We had the continental breakfast at the hotel, finished our postcards, packed up the car again and hit the road.  Next destination: Amarillo, Texas. Translation: Maybe somewhere in Texas but who really knows?

There isn’t much to say about our journey through Alabama other than this: we finally realized that we were driving across the country, that it was going to be a long way, and that it was going to be a lot of car time.  Also, Grace and Garland are towns that must feel like “home” to those who live there (and have mostly likely always lived there and will always live there); however, it feels like anything but “home” to those passing through for food and fuel.  We took an exit which lead us to a sign with arrows pointing in opposite directions.  One lead to the town of Grace, the other to Garland.  We drove both ways and each looked identical – dirt roads with people sitting on porches staring at us as if we didn’t belong….and we didn’t.  You could almost hear crickets, banjos and the clicking of shotguns (“and the whistle of wind through teeth….no tooth!” – Jason).

We stopped at the Alabama Visitor’s Center to take a picture and get some information.  As we were doing so we were greeted by James who had a thick Alabama accent (I didn’t realize southern accents had their own twang but they definitely do).  He was an older man who had probably been working there for years and new a lot.  He took pictures of us by the Alabama sign.  Jason was sure that James was either staring at my necklace or something in that general vicinity and that Jason himself may not have made it into the photograph that James was snapping. 

Although our next scheduled stop was Dallas, we decided it would be nice to drive a bit out of the way to see the Gulf Coast….so, that’s what we did.  We had checked into accommodations in New Orleans, but they were not in the budget.  Biloxi, MS had plenty of cheap hotels right on the coast line so we headed that way excited about a good night’s sleep in a room by the water. As it turns out, in Biloxi, cheap = skank. We aren’t pretentious by any stretch of the imagination; however, the Flamingo at $34.95/night wasn’t worth investing in bullet proof vests and watching our luggage (and our backs) overnight in shifts.  We drove around and around Biloxi checking out hotels and finally came to the conclusion that it’s either pay a little more or give up peace of mind.  We stayed at the Super 8 on the coast line of Biloxi.  We requested a room where we could park the Jeep right by our room window and brought inside the valuables – guitars, cameras, laptop, etc. 

For dinner we went to Shaggy’s which is right on the beach and completely open.  It is most likely the site of lots of drunken nights and debauchery among college students and spring breakers, but was a neat place to see the water, have dinner and not discuss the road for a minute.  I had a blackened chicken club and margarita and Jason had the grilled fish sandwich and Indian Summer Ale.  We chowed down on food and made small talk with the bar tender about our travels.  It didn’t go far beyond how horrible Texas is to drive through and how miserable we would be. In her defense, she did the drive through Texas all by herself and with a 5 month old baby.  Yikes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We finally arrived in Huntersville, NC around 9pm to see my best friend, Sonya, her boyfriend Jacob and his roommate Ryan.  We had no issues other than a noise we couldn’t quite figure out – the constant locking and unlocking of the doors on their own accord.  Jason proudly announced that he fixed it the next morning, “I jiggled some wires. I think we’re good.”  I don’t believe that he meant it at the time, but we haven’t had the issue since.  We all sat around and mingled for about 2 hours.  It was nice and relaxing as we were all feeling exhausted – them from St. Patty’s Day shenanigans the day before and Jason and I for obvious reasons (refer to previous post). 

We got up around 8am the day which was Monday morning.  Our next destination was Newnan, GA to see my other best friend, Liz, and her husband, Jonathan.  I wanted to stop at the Vortex with Jason before we made it to Newnan.  It is a unique pub/restaurant in Little Five Points in Atlanta, GA.  If you are ever nearby, check it out.  Man v. Food from the Travel Channel was there as well trying out different things from the food menu including the ‘Elvis.’  I, like millions of others, felt the need to share my current location status with hundreds of others on Facebook.  My friend from college, Andy, saw my post and said that he lived just next door.  He rode his bike on over and the three of us sat down to have a beer before moving down to Newnan.  He had just gotten back from Europe with his girlfriend 1pm the day before!

Around 8pm, we arrived into the cute little town of Newnan.  Liz and Jonathan were great hosts offering to help us unload the vehicle and have the upstairs prepared for us.  Jason and I pulled out the guitar in an attempt to entertain with playing and singing but, apparently, we didn’t have it in us.  Instead, the four of us sat down talked about music and technology (well, mostly Jonathan talked about technology and we tried to understand it).  Like the night before, we didn’t get to socialize as much as we would have liked due to lack of time and energy; however, it was so nice to see them on the way out!

Jason and I got up at 6am Tuesday and went for a run around the neighborhood.  That involved more than throwing on running shoes and a t-shirt as my running clothes were buried somewhere in the bottom of the chaos that was and is the inside of this Jeep Liberty.  After pulling everything out of the car, taking clothes from the bottom suitcase, repacking the car, we finally headed out for the run.  There were lots of beautiful streets and flowers blooming and felt good to stretch the legs before sitting down in the car for what we knew would be the longest day of driving so far. We showered, had a quick cup of coffee and had breakfast at the Redneck Gourmet per Liz and Jonathan’s recommendation (we both had the veggie omelet and it was fantastic….other than the unexpected potty break I needed as a result).  And, on that note, we were off to Alabama….